The last time the White Sox saw 24 year-old starter Carlos Rodon on a Major League mound was September 30th of 2016. He struck out 10 batters and walked just three.
In the previous start, he had struck out 11 and, also, walked just three batters. You get the picture. Rodon had found his groove last season. But after being sidelined with left bicep bursitis that kept him off the mound at Guaranteed Rate Field until Wednesday night, Rodon had gathered some noticeable rust.
Rodon pitched five innings and issued six walks, a product of his wildness on the mound, while striking out just two batters with no earned runs. He threw 94 pitches, a count that White Sox manager Rick Renteria said he would be foolish to not keep an eye on, yet only 41 of those pitches went for strikes. But the box score doesn’t always paint the full picture. Watching Rodon’s return left the White Sox hopeful that the pitcher they saw last season was surely on his way back.
“I think that as he continues to pitch here it’s going to continue to get better,” Renteria said after Rodon’s outing against the Yankees on Wednesday night. “Obviously toward the last year where he was starting to really kind of get a feel for everything, I think that will come back at some point.”
The evening ended in defeat, as the White Sox fell 12-3 to the Yankees, but there were a few takeaways from Rodon’s evening that are worth noting.
Often one of the biggest fears when a pitcher suffers an injury and setback is a drop in velocity, especially when said pitcher isn’t one who pumps gas off the mound every time out. Rodon put those worries to rest Wednesday night as his fastball reached a healthy velocity–as high as 97 mph–and his slider touched 89mph. That’s something you don’t often see from starters their first time out, especially after returning from a quite serious stint on the DL.
Rodon has always had a ton of movement on his pitches which is one of the reasons his slider has been such a nasty and successful pitch for him. For Rodon, however, something that has always come along with that movement is an inability to command his pitches and keep them in the strike zone. He worked hard on perfecting that last season but, after being away for some time, he saw some of his command issues rear its ugly head.
“Great stuff, great life, but the goal is to put it in the zone and let them swing it to get guys out early,” Rodon said of his erratic command after Wednesday’s start. “That’s not what happened. I’ll get back to that.”
“He has a lot of life,” Renteria said. “You could see [Omar Narvaez] going over to try to catch some balls that were having tremendous run. He’s got some tremendous life. He’s just trying to harness to the best that he can and being able to execute where he wants to get as many strikes as possible.”
Rodon threw 61 fastballs Wednesday evening, with only 33 going for strikes. He also threw 19 sliders, only four of which went for strikes. The slider and changeup were Rodon’s wildest pitches on the evening, most of which were just not able to stay inside the zone. Rodon’s fastball, however, was missing the plate narrowly most times and was simply just not generating swings and misses.
Obviously, with the Yankees already having one of the most patient plate approaches around and knowing this was Rodon’s first start of the season, they were probably less likely to swing at Rodon’s offerings to begin with.
Rodon mainly relied on his fastball, only throwing his changeup — an offering he learned to work with as a strong third pitch last season — just seven times, only one of which was swung on. Once Rodon becomes more comfortable back on the mound and feels a better ability to command his breaking pitches, expect to see more of the movement-heavy sequences that Rodon quickly became known for.
Despite the loss and the struggles he faced, Rodon was clearly happy to be back with his teammates. “It’s a tough loss, but it’s better to be with the guys out on the field grinding than sitting on the couch and watching for sure,
“Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for,” Rodon said. Considering the trials the White Sox rotation has been through recently, that really is all they can ask for.